Crime rates are higher in Western Canada, but they’ve been falling just like everywhere else

by Angus Reid | July 17, 2016 6:30 pm

By Ian Holliday[1], Research Associate

July 17, 2016 – An interesting pattern emerges in the Angus Reid Institute’s recent survey[2] on perceptions of the Canadian justice system: Canadians living west of Manitoba are much more likely than those living farther east to report having been the victim of a crime in the last two years.

British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan residents are more than twice as likely as Ontarians or Quebecers to have experienced a crime:


This east-west divide is also reflected in perceptions that crime is on the rise in one’s own community. Those in Western Canada are more likely to say crime has increased in recent years than respondents in the east:


Why is this the case? Is crime really more of a problem in the country’s west than it is in Ontario, Quebec, or Atlantic Canada?

The answer, as it turns out, is yes.

Crime rates are higher in Western Canada …

Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index[3] uses data reported by police departments across the country to measure both the volume and severity of crimes, both violent and nonviolent.

As of 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), Western provinces scored considerably higher on the index than Ontario and points east, indicating higher crime rates there.

The result is the following graph, which bears a striking resemblance to the one about personal experience with a crime involving the police above:


… But Canadians still perceive increases in crime that aren’t actually there

As has been the trend across the developed world[4] in recent decades, crime is decreasing in Canada. The following graph shows the overall trend in the national Crime Severity Index since 2000:


Likewise, crime in each individual province has been on the decline during that time. The following graph shows the percentage decrease in the Crime Severity Index in each province from 2000 to 2014.


As the graph shows, crime has fallen the most in the two provinces where Canadians are least likely to report having been the victim of a crime in the last two years – Ontario and Quebec.

Only Quebecers seem be conscious of this fact, however. In Ontario, as seen in the perceived change in crime graph near the beginning of this analysis, only 7 per cent of respondents report – correctly – that crime in their communities has been decreasing in the last five years. Five times that many (39%) say crime has been on the rise.

In Quebec, the percentage of respondents who say crime has been decreasing (19%) and the percentage who say it has been increasing (20%) are roughly equal.

This pattern – of people perceiving crime to be on the rise when it is, in fact, declining – has been recorded[5] in public opinion polling in the United States as well.

The reason often cited[6] for this trend is that people tend to see reports of individual crimes in the news media much more often than they see reports that crime on the whole is declining.

This survey – and past Angus Reid soundings – seem to provide some evidence for this theory. Not only are perceptions that crime is increasing higher in provinces where the actual crime rate is higher, historical perceptions of crime on the rise correspond with higher historical crime rates.

In 1994, an Angus Reid poll found 68 per cent of Canadians believed crime had increased in the preceding five years. At that time, crime rates had already begun decreasing, after peaking in 1991[7]. Two decades later, in 2014, another Angus Reid poll that asked the same question found 30 per cent believing crime had been increasing.

While that perception was as inaccurate in 2014 as it was in 1994 and remains today, the lower national crime rate in 2014 correlates with the lower number of people holding the inaccurate belief that crime was on the rise.

For the initial release on Confidence in the Justice System click here[8]

  1. Ian Holliday:
  2. Angus Reid Institute’s recent survey:
  3. Crime Severity Index:
  4. the trend across the developed world:
  5. has been recorded:
  6. reason often cited:
  7. peaking in 1991:
  8. For the initial release on Confidence in the Justice System click here:

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